Thursday, November 29, 2012

Undeterred by 'Made in China' allegations, India showcases Aakash 2 tablet at UN

The architect of Aakash 2 says India's low-cost tablet is not 'made in China'. Some parts are made in that country, Sunil Singh Tuli says, but it is assembled in India and is "an Indian product, made by Indians."

Days before the world's cheapest touch-screen tablet went on show at the United Nations in the presence of Secretary General Ban ki Moon, there have been controversial media reports that the Aakash 2 is actually a cheap import from China that has been cosmetically tweaked in India and then presented as its technology innovation. Sunil Singh Tuli, who is the CEO of Datawind, which won the contract to build the Aakash 2, rubbishes such reports and says, "This is truly a frugal innovation in India and this is why India should be proud and this is why it is being showcased at the UN today."

Mr Tuli says to call the Aakash an off-the-shelf, "made in China product" is wrong. "We have clarified that we have kitted these in China and we have done the entire assembling and programming in India. The touch screens are made by us and we have videos showing those facilities. For somebody to say this is an off-the-shelf product is totally wrong. If it is an off-the-shelf product, then supply one at the same price," he told NDTV.

Hardeep Puri, India's Ambassador to the UN, too justifies presenting Aakash 2 to the world as an Indian innovation. "Nowhere does it say that this is an Aakash 2 tablet that is 'made in India' exclusively or even partially. When the Government of India floated a tender, it was a global tender and I don't remember any such stipulations. It was a very poor attempt at orchestrating a controversy when you realise that Aakash 2 was being showcased in New York at the UN," Mr Puri says.

Mr Tuli too insists that at no time have they claimed that Aakash 2 is a "made in India" product. He says the Indian government did not stipulate for the Aakash to be made in India when Datawind was awarded the tender.

"The Indian government has said we have ordered a product, they did not specify where it should be made. The GOI is going to spend billions of dollars to equip all its kids with low-cost computing and internet access. We have recommended that the manufacturing should happen in India," he says, adding, "Yes, parts will come from China and other parts of the world.  We should focus on trying to integrate more and more in India."

Mr Tuli says this is why a touch screen facility is being set up in Amritsar. "The fact that it gets kitted in China is really an attempt to demean India's value to the world, which is unfortunate. The reality still is that this is an Indian product made by Indians, for India, liberating education in India and Indians should be proud of that."

The Human Resource Development Ministry commissioned the Aakash 2 as an attempt to provide digital access to millions of students in small towns and villages across the country. It plans to make the tablet available to students at about Rs. 1200, or 30 dollars, a fraction of, say, Apple's iPad and is expected to bring the Android or Mobile OS experience to India's poorest students.

Costliest jet, years in making, sees the enemy: Budget cuts

The Marine version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, already more than a decade in the making, was facing a crucial question: Could the jet, which can soar well past the speed of sound, land at sea like a helicopter?

On an October day last year, with Lieutenant Colonel Fred Schenk at the controls, the plane glided toward a ship off the Atlantic coast and then, its engine rotating straight down, descended gently to the deck at 7 feet a second.

There were cheers from the ship's crew members, who "were all shaking my hands and smiling," Schenk recalled recently.

The smooth landing helped save that model and breathed new life into the F-35 program, the most expensive weapons system in military history. But while Pentagon officials say the program is making progress, it begins its 12th year in development years behind schedule, troubled with technological flaws and facing concerns about its relatively short flight range as possible threats grow from Asia.

With a price tag potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the jet is likely to become a target for budget cutters. Reining in military spending is on the table as President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress look for ways to avert a fiscal crisis. But no matter what kind of deal is reached, military analysts expect the Pentagon budget to decline in the next decade as the war in Afghanistan ends and the military is required to do its part to reduce the federal debt.

Behind the scenes, the Pentagon and the F-35's main contractor, Lockheed Martin, are engaged in a conflict of their own over the costs.

The relationship "is the worst I've ever seen, and I've been in some bad ones," Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan of the Air Force, a top program official, said in September.

The F-35 was conceived as the Pentagon's silver bullet in the sky - a state-of-the art aircraft that could be adapted to three branches of the military, with advances that would easily overcome the defences of most foes. The radar-evading jets would not only dodge sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles but would also give pilots a better picture of enemy threats.

But the aircraft instead illustrates how the Pentagon can let huge and complex programs veer out of control and then have a hard time reining them in. The program nearly doubled in cost as Lockheed and the military's own bureaucracy failed to deliver on the most basic promise of a three-in-one jet that would save taxpayers money and be served up speedily.

Lockheed has delivered 41 planes so far for testing and initial training, and Pentagon leaders are slowing purchases of the F-35 to fix the latest technical problems and reduce the immediate costs. A helmet for pilots that projects targeting data onto its visor is too jittery to count on. The tail-hook on the Navy jet has had trouble catching the arresting cable, meaning that version cannot yet land on carriers.

And writing and testing the millions of lines of software needed by the jets is so daunting that Bogdan said, "It scares the heck out of me."

The jets would cost taxpayers $396 billion, including research and development, if the Pentagon sticks to its plan to build 2,443 by the late 2030s. That would be nearly four times as much as any other weapons system and two-thirds of the $589 billion the United States has spent on the war in Afghanistan. The military is also trying to figure out how to reduce the long-term costs of operating the planes, now projected at $1.1 trillion.

For years, the problems with the F-35 raised few red flags, as money flowed freely after the 2001 terror attacks and enthusiasm for a three-in-one jet blinded officials in the Clinton and Bush administrations and in Congress to its overly ambitious design. Now, unless the Pentagon can substantially reduce the price of each plane, analysts say, it may be lucky to buy 1,200 to 1,800.

Robert J. Stevens, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, said company officials were "working as aggressively as we can" to fix the problems and cut costs.

Vice Adm. David Venlet, who now runs the program at the Pentagon, said he was confident that "good old-fashioned engineering is going to lick" the flaws. But he declined to predict how many planes would be bought.

The roots of the problems go back to the mid-1990s, when military officials pitched the F-35 as simple and affordable, with the three versions sharing 70 to 80 per cent of their parts. The planes would also be versatile, capable of fighting other planes but focused mainly on attacking ground targets.

Almost immediately, the project proved to be incredibly complicated. Lockheed's initial designs were late and had to be redone, delaying the manufacture of parts for the test models. While most military programs start building before all the testing is done, the Pentagon took that to an extreme, starting production of the F-35s in 2007, before flight tests had even begun.

Frank Kendall, who became the Pentagon's top weapons buyer in May, has said that diving into production so soon amounted to "acquisition malpractice."

With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars raging, Robert M. Gates, who was then the defence secretary, did not deal with the problems with the F-35 until late 2009 and early 2010, when he fired the general in charge and brought in Venlet, a former fighter pilot who had overseen testing of Navy aircraft.

Venlet's first move was to bring in technical experts from the services who had been shut out of the program.

Another method that he chose to assert control is decidedly low-tech: printouts of charts, hung from whiteboards on all four walls of a "war room" in the F-35 offices near the Pentagon.

"It looks maybe a little dinosaur-like," he acknowledged, standing near cutout plane shapes tracking the flow of parts into Lockheed's mile-long plant in Fort Worth, Texas. "But you know what? It works."

Military officials said the testing has picked up substantially at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station here and other bases. Still, the overlap between testing and production remains a serious problem.

Lockheed argues that the government's estimates of what the F-35s should cost now are too low and that the program was far riskier than the military said it would be. Only 20 to 30 per cent of the structural parts ended up in common, although the models will share engines and software. Lockheed officials also noted that commercial plane makers had run into delays with their most innovative planes, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and Airbus' A350.

Lockheed is fixing the most glaring problems. But the "gorilla in the room," Bogdan said, is testing and securing the 24 million lines of software code for the plane and its support systems, a mountain of instructions that goes far beyond what has been tried in any plane.

Still, if the military and Lockheed can "hold each other accountable," he said, "we've got a shot at getting this done."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Will travelling anywhere on Earth in four hours be a reality?

A small British company with a dream of building a re-usable space plane has won an important endorsement from the European Space Agency (ESA) after completing key tests on its novel engine technology.

Reaction Engines Ltd believes its novel Sabre engine, which would operate like a jet engine in the atmosphere and a rocket in space, could displace rockets for space access and transform air travel by bringing any destination on earth to no more than four hours away.

That ambition was given a boost on Wednesday by ESA, which has acted as an independent auditor on the Sabre test programme.

"ESA are satisfied that the tests demonstrate the technology required for the Sabre engine development," the agency's head of propulsion engineering Mark Ford told a news conference.

"One of the major obstacles to a re-usable vehicle has been removed," he said. "The gateway is now open to move beyond the jet age."

The space plane, dubbed Skylon, only exists on paper. What the company has right now is a remarkable heat exchanger that is able to cool air sucked into the engine at high speed from 1,000 degrees Celsius to minus 150 degrees in one hundredth of a second.

This core piece of technology solves one of the constraints that limit jet engines to a top speed of about 2.5 times the speed of sound, which Reaction Engines believes it could double.


With the Sabre engine in jet mode, the air has to be compressed before being injected into the engine's combustion chambers. Without pre-cooling, the heat generated by compression would make the air hot enough to melt the engine.

The challenge for the engineers was to find a way to cool the air quickly without frost forming on the heat exchanger, which would clog it up and stop it working.

Using a nest of fine pipes that resemble a large wire coil, the engineers have managed to get round this fatal problem that would normally follow from such rapid cooling of the moisture in atmospheric air.

They are tight-lipped on exactly how they managed to do it.

"We are not going to tell you how this works," said the company's chief designer Richard Varvill, who started his career at the military engine division of Rolls-Royce. "It is our most closely guarded secret."

The company has deliberately avoided filing patents on its heat exchanger technology to avoid details of how it works - particularly the method for preventing the build-up of frost - becoming public.

The Sabre engine could take a plane to five times the speed of sound and an altitude of 25 kilometre, about 20 per cent of the speed and altitude needed to reach orbit. For space access, the engines would then switch to rocket mode to do the remaining 80 percent.

Reaction Engines believes Sabre is the only engine of its kind in development and the company now needs to raise about 250 million pounds to fund the next three-year development phase in which it plans to build a small-scale version of the complete engine.

Scramjets on test vehicles like the U.S. Air Force Waverider, also use atmospheric air to create thrust but they have to be accelerated to their operating speed by normal jet engines or rockets before they kick in. The Sabre engine can operate from a standing start.

Sabre produces thrust by burning hydrogen and oxygen but inside the atmosphere it would take that oxygen from the air, reducing the amount it would have to carry in fuel tanks for rocket mode, cutting weight and allowing Skylon to go into orbit in one stage.

If the developers are successful, Sabre would be the first engine in history to send a vehicle into space without using disposable, multi-stage rockets.

Skylon is years away, but in the meantime the technology is attracting interest from the global aerospace industry and governments because it effectively doubles the technical limits of current jet engines and could cut the cost of space access.

The heat exchanger technology could also be incorporated into a new jet engine design that could cut 5 to 10 per cent off airline fuel bills.

That would be significant in an industry where incremental efficiency gains of one per cent or so, from improvements in wing design for instance, are big news.

India to showcase Aakash-2 tablet at UN

India will showcase the Aakash-2 tablet at the United Nations amidst clarification by the maker of the low-cost tablet over sourcing some parts from China.

The tablet will be unveiled on Wednesday in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the occasion of India's current Presidency of the Security Council.

CEO of Datawind, maker of the tablet, Suneet Singh Tuli would give a presentation about the device.

The unveiling of the tablet at the UN comes as Datawind said assembling and programming of the low-cost tablet has been done in India and only some main parts have been sourced from China.

Datawind had said that for the first 10,000 units for IIT, and for the sake of "expediency", the motherboards and kits were manufactured in its Chinese subcontractor's facilities.

The units were 'kitted' in China at various manufacturers while the final assembly and programming happened in India.

India's Permanent Representative to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri had said earlier this month that the Indian mission to the UN took the initiative to showcase the tablet at the world body.

Aakash has been "described as the most competitively priced tablet computer by an Indian-origin entrepreneur," Mr Puri had said.

Datawind had won the tender in 2010 to supply one lakh Aakash tablets for a price of around USD 49 per unit.

An advanced version of Aakash was launched on November 11 by President Pranab Mukherjee in India.

The new version 'Aakash 2' is powered by a processor running at 1 GHz, has a 512 MB RAM, a 7-inch capacitative touch screen and a battery working for three hours of normal operations.

The first version of tablet had a processor with 366 Megahertz, 256 MB RAM and 2GB flash memory.

The first one lakh devices would be provided to students of engineering colleges and universities.

Sahara India acquires majority stake in New York's Plaza Hotel

Sahara India is understood to have acquired 75 per cent stake in the Plaza Hotel in New York. Media reports said Subrata Roy-promoted Sahara paid $575 million (about Rs. 3,000 crore) for the 75 per cent stake, while the remaining 25 per cent is held by Kingdom Holding Co, a firm controlled by Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which manages the property, confirmed the change in the ownership but did not elaborate on the financial details of the transaction.

"The Plaza, a Fairmont Managed Hotel has had a recent change in ownership, which remains committed to the hotel...," Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Public Relations Executive Director Lori Holland told PTI in an e-mailed response.

"The hotel is currently owned by Sahara India Pariwar, an India-based conglomerate and Kingdom Holding Company, chaired by HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud and a shareholder of parent company Fairmont Raffles Hotels Inc," she added.

When contacted on the development, a Sahara India Pariwar spokesperson declined to comment.

The Plaza would continue to be manged by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

"We look forward to working with our new owners in building upon the stature and success of the hotel and
defining the future vision of The Plaza, a global hospitality landmark," Holland said.

When asked about the details of transaction, Holland said: "Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is the operator of the hotel, and as such we do not comment on the business details of our owners."

Re-arming the Indian Army's troops with lethal, modern weapons

The Indian Infantry - that hard working, non-complaining arm of the Army - is at last likely to get the attention it deserves, if plans envisaged by Army Chief General Bikram Singh and the Directorate of Infantry fructify in the next couple of years.

Starting 2014, several basic weapons used by the 350-odd infantry battalions are likely to be replaced by a new and more lethal ones. So the assault rifle, the carbine, the light machine gun (LMG), the sniper rifle and even the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) - essentials in an infantry battalion - all are set to be replaced over the next five years. Many of these weapons, currently used by the troops are of 1960s vintage. The Dragunov sniper rifle, for instance. Or the ATGMs which are on second generation variety.

To begin with, the current mix of 7.62 self-loading rifle and the 5.56 INSAS rifle used by some battalions is likely to be replaced by a new double barrel rifle complete with a conversion kit which will enable the troops to make dual use.

"When an infantry battalion is deployed in counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism (CI-CT) role , it will have the option to use the 7.62 mm barrel but when it gets posted to a peace station, the 7.62 mm barrel can be mothballed in field stores and the same rifle can then be converted to 5.56 mm bore."

Each infantry battalion in the Indian Army normally holds about 494 pieces of the basic rifles. In the first phase, 120-odd battalions deployed in CI-CT role under Northern and Eastern Command will get these rifles by mid-2014. In phase II, transfer of technology will be ensured and the production will then be taken up by India's Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).

Well-known gun brands like Colt and Beretta are among five or six companies competing for the big tender of 60,000 assault rifles estimated to cost Rs. 5,000 crore at current prices. According to Army Headquarters, field trials are currently on and are expected to go on till mid-2013 before a winner emerges.

The current version of the LMGs - 45 in each battalion - are of 5.56 mm bore and are bulky at 6.23 kg. The Army plans to replace them with much lighter and more lethal ones with longer range and 7.62x51 mm bore. The general staff qualitative requirements (GSQR) for the new LMGs are being worked out currently, according to informed sources in the Army HQ.

Procurement of third generation ATGMs worth about Rs. 2,000 crore is being given priority since the current lot of eight launchers to each battalion is of much older vintage. The Army wants to graduate from the Milan ATGMs (which has a semi-automatic command line of sight) to a third generation ATGM which will be an 'automatic command line of sight' ability. In other words, it will have the "fire and forget" mechanism. Trials are currently on for this version of ATGMs in the western sector where they would be initially deployed given that tank warfare will dominate any conflict in this area.

The other big procurement on the anvil is the induction of the new generation carbine. India has plans to procure over 43,000 carbines at a cost of over Rs. 3,200 crore. Each infantry battalion currently holds an inventory of about 230 carbines. While trials are on, the first induction of the newer generation of carbines is likely to take place in 2014.

Sources in the Army HQ say Army Chief General Bikram Singh, an infantry officer himself, is keen that the foot soldiers in the forefront of CI-CT and conventional operations, get the best of weaponry to match their undoubted courage and commitment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

India, China sign $5.2 billion deals to deepen economic co-operation

India and China today pledged to deepen economic and commercial ties and create environment for promoting investment to the mutual benefit of the two nations.

As many 11 agreements, entailing investment of $5.2 billion, were inked here during a day-long 2nd India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

With a view to promote greater economic and commercial engagement, the two sides have agreed to improve trade and investment environment, remove market barriers and deepen business co-operation, said the minutes of the meeting between Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and China's National Development and Reform Commission Zhang Ping.

India and China also agreed to enhance transportation links, encourage greater bilateral investments and work towards achieving a more balanced and sustainable bilateral trade.

Ahluwalia told reporters after the meeting, "The message that we are getting from them is that they would like to see deepening of co-operation." He also expressed the confidence that the dialogue will look at measures to increase investment interest and activity through mutual co-operation.

Ahluwalia said that India and China would look at the possibility of initiating pilot projects in different sectors such as water treatment.

Commenting on the success of the dialogue, he said, "I think from the size of Chinese business delegation, they brought around 180 people, it is clear that there is great deal of business interest in business collaboration from both sides".

The bilateral trade between the two countries has shot up from $3 billion in 2000 to $74 billion currently.

New version of Internet addresses available in India

Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN) has started issuing the next version of Internet addresses 'IPv6', which would make it easy for security agencies to identify each Internet user.

The Internet addresses under the present version IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) are limited and service providers often assign single IP address to many users, making it difficult to identify the end user.

"The number of IPv6 addresses available is enormous. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can allocate an IP address to their users. People can be easily identified if they are using IPv6," APNIC Director (Services and Operations) Sanjaya said at the roadshow for new version IPv6 today.

APNIC, which is one of the five authorised bodies for issuing Internet addresses, has recognised Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN) for issuing IP addresses in India.

"We are issuing IPv6 addresses at up to 60 per cent less than prevailing rates in the ongoing soft launch period. This is to test compatibility of the hardware and software that has to be in place. In the next couple of months, we will launch industrial grade of IPv6," National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) Chief Executive Govind said.

IRINN has been set-up under the state-run NIXI.

On the new version IPv6, Internet Service Providers Association of India President Rajesh Charia said that the new addresses will be multiple times cheaper for companies than IPv4 addresses.

IRINN is issuing the initial set of IPv6 addresses in prices that start at Rs. 21,999 compared to the prevalent rate of around Rs. 66,000 in the Asia-Pacific region.

On addressing security issues with the help of IPv6, Mr Charia said, "Government will have to ensure that the new equipment and devices that are produced or imported in the country are at least IPv6 enabled."

At present, there is no import restriction on devices and equipment that do not comply with IPv6 standards.

PM launches Aadhar-based direct cash transfers in 51 districts of India

In what is being seen as UPA-II's NREGA moment, in a blend of good economics and good politics, the Prime Minister this evening formally announced direct cash transfers to beneficiaries of subsidies in food, fuel and fertilisers. NREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme, is widely acknowledged to have been one of the main reasons for its return to power for the second time in 2009. 

The government has planned to roll out the cash transfer scheme in 51 districts from January 1. It would be extended to 18 states from April and the rest of the country later in 2013. The government aims to cover the entire country by the end of next year, ahead of the 2014 elections.

The direct cash transfer scheme will send money straight to the bank accounts of beneficiaries, almost of all of them from the poorest sections, instead of them getting subsidised food grains, kerosene and fertiliser. This is meant to not only plug leakages and wastage in the system but also cut down on corruption. 

Announcing the scheme this evening, the PM said, "The funds that are provisioned for direct benefits like pensions, scholarships and health-care benefits must reach the intended beneficiaries without delays and leakages. Apart from these direct benefits, the government also provides an amount of over Rs. 3 lakh crore in subsidies which too must reach the right people."

The government will disburse Rs. 3 lakh crore every year, with each BPL (below poverty line) family getting between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 4,000 a month in a designated bank account.Each family will get its cash transfer on the basis of its Aadhar or National Unique Identification (UIDAI) card. 

The scheme has already been piloted for kerosene in parts of Rajathan, as well as cooking gas in Karnataka. The scheme for cooking gas subsidies will also cover eligible APL or above povery line families. 

Given that the success of the scheme will depend on the distribution of Aadhar cards, the PM also said today  that he "would expect the Finance Ministry and the Unique Identification Authority to work in close coordination to achieve a collective goal". 

He also stressed on the need for integrating banking system with the post office network, especially in the rural parts of the country to move closer towards the goal of financial inclusion. Besides, he asked the UIDAI to ensure that the coverage of Aadhaar is adequate as per the roll out plan and no one is left out, and Aadhaar number should be available on demand if beneficiaries are getting left out.

India to get Soviet-era aircraft carrier in 2013


India on Monday said long-time ally Russia would finally hand over a refurbished aircraft carrier next year and end a bitter dispute over the Soviet-era warship caused by rising costs and delays.

The Admiral Gorshkov, now 30 years old, is to fill a vacuum left by the scrapping in 1997 of India's first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which had been in service since 1961.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony told parliament that the end of 2013 has been set as the latest date for the delivery of the 44,570-tonne aircraft carrier, renamed INS Vikramaditya by India.

"The delivery of Vikramaditya has been delayed to the last quarter of 2013 against the envisaged delivery schedule of December 2012," Antony told parliament's lower house in a statement.

The Indian navy currently has only one operational aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, which is to be phased out. It is also planning to build one locally.

Moscow accounts for 70 per cent of Indian arms supplies but late deliveries and commercial disagreements have led New Delhi to use other suppliers such as Israel, Britain, France and the United States.

The original delivery date was August 2008, he said, and added its price tag was fixed at $978.4 million in 2004 when the deal was signed but it was "revised" to $2.3 billion for delivery in 2012.

"The total cost of the project will remain at $2.3 billion at the time of delivery in the last quarter of 2013," he assured parliament and added technical glitches during trials in the year led to the delay.

The warship required new turbines, boilers, 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) of cabling and reinforcement of its flight deck as part of the deal between India and Russian defence export firm Rosoboronexport.

Under the contract Russian shipyard Sevmash has equipped the vessel with modern weapons, 16 MiG-29 fighter jets and a fleet of anti-submarine helicopters.

The shipyard has insisted the dramatic rise in the cost is mainly due to Indian demands for features not included in the original contract.

Russia last December handed over the 8,140-tonne nuclear-powered attack submarine Nerpa to India following more than two years of delays.

China now capable of deploying jets on aircraft carrier: Navy

China is now capable of deploying fighter jets on its first aircraft carrier after successful landing exercises on it, a senior navy officer has said.

Chinese pilots successfully landed and took off the J-15 jet from 'The Liaoning' aircraft carrier yesterday.

Pilots have mastered key skills to ensure the success of the take-off and the landing, especially under unfavourable conditions such as poor visibility and unstable airflow, Vice-Admiral Zhang Yongyi, a deputy commander of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, has said.

"It's like 'dancing on a knifepoint' as the aircraft have to land on a very limited space," Zhang was quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency as saying, while commenting on the successful flight landing recently conducted on 'The Liaoning'.

The aircraft must land precisely over a very short and narrow runway on the carrier at a speed of several hundred kmph, Zhang said, after the J-15 fighter succeeded in the landing tests.

"We have done all these test flights from the very beginning, and finally we mastered the key skills for the landing of carrier-borne aircraft," Zhang, who is also the commander-in-chief in charge of the tests and training programme of the flight landing, said.

Currently, the Chinese pilots have found out the right ways to conduct the landing and they have consolidated their skills, according to the Navy officer, who himself is a meritorious pilot of the Chinese naval air force.

Zhang said the carrier-borne aircraft and special equipment for the landing flight have gone through strict
tests, and fighter jets can be deployed on the aircraft carrier.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hyderabad Metro to be functional by the end of 2014

The Hyderabad Metro Rail will hit the tracks by the end of 2014 and ferry about 15 lakh passengers every day, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy said in Hyderabad on Sunday.

Speaking after inaugurating certain works of Hyderabad Metro, he said the first trial run would be held in June 2014.

The project needs to be completed on time, or the government would have to pay a penalty of Rs.32 lakhs if it is delayed even by a day and the concessionaire would have to pay Rs. 62 lakhs if the delay is on its part, he said.

Highlighting the slew of welfare measures being implemented by his government, Reddy said legal status is being accorded to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes special component plan.

The government would not compromise on ensuring law and order in Hyderabad, he added.

Meanwhile, the absence of Union Minister S Jaipal Reddy from the programme triggered speculation that he was upset about not being invited in a proper manner. However, the Chief Minister told reporters later on Sunday evening that he was not aware of the matter.

PM to chair meeting today to finalise Aadhar-based cash transfer

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will today chair the first national committee meeting to review and finalise the roll-out roadmap of UPA's flagship programme - direct cash transfer through Aadhar.

The committee has 18 members including 12 Cabinet ministers. Along with these ministers, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) - the government agency responsible for implementing the Aadhar scheme - and the Cabinet Secretary will chalk out the intricacies of the roll out.

The government had on Friday set a January 1, 2013 deadline for kick starting the ambitious scheme in 51 districts across the country. The project was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a month ago.

"Beginning 1st of January 2013, in 51 districts selected over 16 states of India we wish to transfer all payments of Government of India, all cash transfers, directly to the beneficiaries through Aadhar enabled bank accounts," Finance Minister P Chidambaram said on Friday.

The scheme will, among other things, facilitate the pay out of direct cash subsidies to the targeted beneficiaries. It aims to cover the entire country by the end of 2013.

Subsidies on LPG, kerosene, pension payments, scholarships as well as payments under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA and other government welfare programmes would be made directly.

The 51 District Magistrates will also be called to acquaint them with the process.

Aadhar will set up a dedicated cell of technical experts in authority to facilitate the direct cash transfers and help individual ministries. It will also roll out its identity cards speedily in line with the roadmap.

Department of financial services will go for universal financial inclusion through individual bank accounts for all in line with the roadmap.

All other departments will work towards digitising their databases quickly, particularly at the state level with the help of state governments, information technology department and National Informatics Centre to ensure convergence.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

BSE remains world's top exchange, leaves NYSE, Nasdaq far behind

Leading bourse Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) has extended its lead as the world's top exchange in terms of the number of listed companies, outpacing major global peers like NYSE, Nasdaq and London Stock Exchange by almost 100 per cent.

The BSE had a total of 5,174 companies listed on its platform at the end of last month, outpacing its closed rival, Canadian bourse TMX Group, by more than 1,000 firms or over 20 per cent, as per the latest data available with the World Federation of Exchange (WFE).

The number of listed companies on BSE platform is almost double that of major bourses like UK's London Stock Exchange and American bourses like NASDAQ and NYSE.

Another Indian bourse, National Stock Exchange (NSE) is ranked 10th with a total number of 1,660 listed companies. The listed firms on BSE has increased from 5,115 in January to 5,174 in October, the WFE data showed. The number of companies listed on BSE rose by 11 companies in October alone.

BSE is followed by TMX Group, BME Spanish Exchanges, London SE Group, NASDAQ OMX, NYSE Euronext (US), Tokyo SE Group, Australian SE, Korea Exchange and NSE in the top ten.

While TMX has 3,964 listed companies, London Stock Exchange has 2,782 companies, NASDAQ OMX has 2,598 and NYSE Euronext (US) has 2,345.

WFE said the data is based on number of companies which have shares listed on an exchange at the end of October, split into domestic and foreign, excluding investment funds and unit trusts. A company with several classes of shares is counted just once, according to WFE.

As per the data, all the listed companies on the BSE are of domestic origin -- which are firms that are incorporated in the same country as where the exchange is located. In terms of number of listed foreign companies, London Stock Exchange is on the top position with 583 such entities, followed by NYSE Euronext (US) with 525 listed overseas firms.

Dubai plans new 'city', world's largest mall

Dubai, famed for its mega-projects before it was hit by the global financial crisis, on Saturday announced a new development to open the world's biggest mall and a park larger than London's Hyde Park.

The ruler of the Gulf desert city state, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, announced the plan for a "new city within Dubai," according to an official statement, naming it after himself.

No cost was stated for "Mohammed bin Rashid City," to be carried out by his Dubai Holding and the publicly-listed Emaar Properties, which developed many of Dubai's prestigious projects, including Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower.

The plan also features new residential areas, although the emirate continues to have a surplus of units built during a five-year bubble which burst in 2009.

The "Mall of the World" will have a capacity of 80 million visitors a year to become the "largest in the world," said the statement, while its park will be "30 percent bigger than Hyde Park of London."

The mall will be connected to a family entertainment centre to be developed in cooperation with Universal Studios International that will be the largest in the region, aiming to attract six million visitors a year.

The emirate already has countless malls and hotels, including the Dubai Mall, touted as the world's largest shopping, leisure and entertainment destination, with 62 million visitors this year.

"The current facilities available in Dubai need to be scaled up in line with the future ambitions for the city," Sheikh Mohammed said in the statement.

Dubai's tourism is growing by 13 percent a year, according to the statement, with hotel occupancy hitting 82 percent in 2011 while hotel revenues grew 22 percent last year, exceeding 16 billion dirhams ($4.4 billion).

The emirate rocked global financial markets in autumn 2009 over its debt crisis, but Dubai has restructured the mountain of debt owed by its corporations, and its economy has returned to growth after contracting in 2009.

$20 trillion Asia trade bloc planned

An alternative to US President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP) is the newest concept for an economic union between ASEAN and six major trading partners, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen formally launched the negotiations on the RCEP during the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh on November 20.
The RCEP is supposed to be a trading bloc that will comprise more than three billion people with a combined GDP of $20 trillion, or almost one-third of the global economy. Officials hope to have the talks concluded by the end of 2015.
The idea for the new bloc has been born as critics have said the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not the ideal mechanism for a Pacific trade pact given China’s non-membership and some countries in Asia, such as Thailand, have raised concerns that US companies in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information technology would be granted greater access to Asia before Asian companies in those sectors are able to compete with US rivals on equal footing.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership so far includes the US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Canada.

India successfully test fires supersonic interceptor missile

India on Friday successfully test-fired an indigenously developed supersonic interceptor missile, capable of destroying a hostile ballistic missile, from a test range off the Odisha coast.

"At around 12.52 hours, the interceptor hit the target missile successfully at an altitude of about 15 kilometres," DRDO spokesman Ravi Kumar Gupta told PTI. 
India is working towards development of a multi-layer Ballistic Missile Defence system.

The test was conducted to validate various parameters of the interceptor in flight mode, said a Defence source.

The 'hostile' ballistic missile, a modified surface- to-surface 'Prithvi', mimicking an incoming enemy weapon, first lifted off from a mobile launcher at around 12.52 hours from the launch complex-3 of integrated test range (ITR) at Chandipur-on-Sea, about 15 km from Balasore.

Within about four minutes, the interceptor, Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile positioned at Wheeler Island, about 70 km from Chandipur, after getting signals from tracking radars, roared through its trajectory to destroy the incoming missile mid-air, in an "endo-atmospheric" altitude, Defence sources said.

"The 'kill' effect of the interceptor is being ascertained by analysing data from multiple tracking sources,"
a Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist said soon after the test was carried out.

The interceptor is a 7.5-metre-long single-stage solid rocket propelled guided missile equipped with a navigation system, a hi-tech computer and an electro-mechanical activator, the sources said.

The interceptor missile had its own mobile launcher, secure data link for interception, independent tracking and homing capabilities, besides sophisticated radars, the sources added.

The previous trial conducted on February 10, 2012 from the same base was successful. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

As Europe plots closer ties, Britain mulls split

Goodbye Britain?

For the European Union, a once-unthinkable question is looking more like a real possibility with each new grinding week of economic crisis. The reason is that bad times are forcing the 17 EU nations that use the euro currency to move ever closer toward some kind of United States of Europe - one that could make decisions about how much member countries spend and how much tax they collect.

If ever Britain had a nightmare, that's it.

The British public shows no interest in moving closer to the rest of Europe, and most can't even seem to stomach the status quo. The real question these days appears to be whether to drift away or break away abruptly.

After a 2015 election, Britain - among 10 of the 27 EU nations that don't use the euro - is likely to hold a referendum on whether to leave the EU. Even if it doesn't hold a vote, the country is already unpicking its ties with Europe, a movement that has unsettled Germany, which is eager to retain the U.K. as an important economic driver of the bloc.

"I will ask the inhabitants of the wonderful island to reflect that they will not be happy if they are alone in this world," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech before visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron last week in London.

Her outreach, however, has little impact here. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who once toured the U.K. on a "Save The Pound" campaign that opposed the euro, believes the British public has never been more skeptical of European unity.

"Public disillusionment with the EU in Britain is the deepest it has ever been," he said last month. "People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say."

Such distrust is tangled with worries over the fallout from the European debt crisis and anger at the European Court of Human Rights - castigated by British politicians for ordering Britain to give prisoners a vote in national elections, and preventing the U.K. from deporting terrorism suspects to countries with patchy human rights records.

Even more alarming for many in Britain, Merkel called last week for turning the European Commission, which currently drafts legislation and regulates competition, into "something like a European government." The phrase alone rattles the teeth of many British politicians, who have warned for decades of the specter of a European superstate.

"Withdrawing from the EU can no longer be dismissed as unthinkable. It is no longer a marginal view confined to mavericks, but a legitimate point that is starting to go mainstream," Douglas Carswell, a legislator with Cameron's Conservative Party, told Parliament as it debated the idea of leaving the EU.

Last month, Cameron faced a huge rebellion within his own party as 81 of the 303 Conservative lawmakers defied his orders and voted to hold an urgent referendum on EU membership in 2015.

Under pressure from his own party and watching nervously as his traditional supporters are wooed by UKIP, a minority political party that advocates EU withdrawal, Cameron is expected to eventually offer Britain its first referendum about staying in the EU since 1973. The opposition Labour Party says it too would back holding a vote - but only when the eurozone crisis has come to an end.

Even without a decisive split, there are signs already of the diverging paths of Britain and the EU:

- Because Britain does not use the euro, it has no voice in the decisions that affect the 17-member eurozone. It is worth remembering that all but three EU countries - the UK, Denmark and Sweden - are committed to using the euro eventually. So the eurozone meetings could one day be meetings of almost the entire European Union, with only three member states excluded.

- In March, 25 EU members signed a Fiscal Compact to provide for stronger oversight of national budgets. The two that didn't sign? The Czech Republic and Britain.

- In October, 11 EU countries decided to go ahead with a tax on financial transactions. EU officials predict the number of participants will swell to more than 20. Britain will not be among them.

- Next year, EU officials will be working to set up a single banking supervisor for banks in countries that use the euro. Britain has said it is concerned about the prospect of decisions being made over which it has no say.

- Britain is planning to opt out of 130 European agreements on crime and justice - hoping to instead pick and choose how and when it cooperates with its neighbours on law enforcement. The decision would risk undermining the European Arrest Warrant system, which allows police to reach across European borders to easily arrests fugitive suspects.

The trend has political leaders in other countries worried.

"If the eurozone is much more integrated and those outside are far away, the distance can become too wide and too large," Andreas Mavroyiannis, Cyprus' deputy minister for European Affairs, told The Associated Press. And that, he said, would be dangerous for the EU as a whole.

Officials in Brussels are deeply concerned, as well.

"Probably rightly, I've been called an Anglophile," Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said in a magazine interview this summer. "I believe that Europe without Britain at the heart will be less reform-driven, less open, less an international Europe. That is why sometimes when I look at the debate in the U.K., I ask myself: 'How is it that this country is so open to the world, and apparently so closed to Europe?' It seems a contradiction."

The prospect of a British exit from the EU alarms some British business leaders, who see the bloc's free markets as vital to their nation's prosperity.

"Whatever the popular appeal may be of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge firmly in place," said Roger Carr, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, the nation's biggest business lobby.

"As countries of Europe bind together in pursuit of salvation, we in the U.K. must work harder to avoid the risks of isolation."

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who left office in 2007 before the debt crisis struck, is another lonely advocate for British leadership in Europe.

"The 21st century case for Europe is based not on war or peace but on power or irrelevance," Blair said last month. "Europe carries weight, multiplies opportunity and makes sense for its individual nations."

He has urged Britain's government not to walk away, but to help build a new structure to help Europe balance the competing demands of the 17 eurozone nations and the remainder of the European Union.

"It is a very tricky task. But it is an essential one if the U.K. is not to be sidelined," Blair said.

Peter Mandelson, a former member of Blair's Cabinet and ex-European Union trade commissioner, warns that going it alone would mean waning influence for Britain on the global stage.

Britain, he said, soon could be a "Hong Kong to Europe's China, or a Canada to Europe's United States."

How Asia sees Obama's pivot to the Pacific

A lot has happened in Asia while the United States was off fighting its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of it can be summed up in one word - China. Fuelled by China's amazing growth and the promise of its huge and expanding consumer market, the Asia-Pacific region is now, as experts like to say, the global economy's centre of gravity. Sorry, Europe.

But prosperity requires stability.

As President Barack Obama tours the region to push his year-old pivot to the Pacific policy, the big question on everybody's mind is how much of a role Washington, with its mighty military and immense diplomatic clout, can play in keeping the Pacific - well, pacific. Here's a look at how different countries perceive the U.S. Pacific policy and how it impacts them:


As far as Beijing is concerned, Obama's pivot was pulled right out of the old Cold War containment playbook. Afraid of China's rise, Beijing believes, Washington is trying to enflame new tensions by isolating it and emboldening the countries that China has territorial disputes with, which is just about everybody with whom it shares a border.

"Using China's rise and the 'China threat' theory, the U.S. wants to convince China's neighbours that the Asia-Pacific needs Washington's presence and protection in order to 'unite' them to strike a 'strategic rebalance' against China in the region," security scholar Wang Yusheng wrote recently in the China Daily.

It's a strategy that's bound to lose, Beijing says.

China sees its rise as inevitable and unstoppable and believes its neighbours will ultimately opt for stronger ties while gradually excluding the U.S. Beijing also views its economic dominance as an unalloyed good. And as it tests out its first aircraft carrier, stealth jets, cyber capabilities and high-tech missiles, it is in an increasingly strong position to deny Washington access to its shores and some key Pacific sea lanes, which could be a problem if Obama's pivot ever has to go from push to shove.


Without a doubt, Japan is Washington's most faithful security partner in the Pacific. And it's the most pinched by China's rise.

For months, Japan and China have been in an increasingly tense dispute over a group of small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The near-constant presence of Chinese ships around them has stretched the Japanese Coast Guard to its limits. Japan's air force says Chinese surveillance flights in the area have increased significantly.

Wary of getting caught up in the volatile brew of nationalism, historical animosity and populist politics that is fuelling the flare-up, the U.S. has been careful not to take sides. Instead, it has urged the two countries to work out their problems among themselves, diplomatically.

That has confounded many in Japan, which hosts 52,000 U.S. troops under a treaty signed in 1960 that obliges the U.S. to defend territories under Japanese administration. Washington has repeatedly affirmed that includes the isles at the centre of the current tensions with China. Tokyo would have preferred at least some moral support to its claim.

"It's strange," said Kazuhiko Togo, a former senior diplomat who now heads the Institute for World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University. "I trust the U.S. as our ally, but we need to address this issue of U.S. 'neutrality.'"


Washington took a similarly standoffish stance early this year in the dispute between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan over the South China Sea islands, believed to be rich in gas and oil and straddling busy shipping routes.

The Philippines - America's closest ally in that dispute - eventually pulled its ships out of the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal, but Chinese vessels have remained.

Manila-based political analyst Ramon Casiple said the disputes have left America's allies more aware of their own vulnerabilities and what they can - or can't - expect from the U.S.

"America's treading a very fine line," Casiple said. "It has to reassure its allies that at the end of the day the U.S. would be there for them." He added that the U.S. has made it clear it is not willing to risk a major confrontation in which its options would be limited "to either intervene or lose influence."

There is, however, one other thing it might do in the meantime.

When U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta visited Vietnam in June, he hinted the Navy would like access to Cam Ranh, a deep water port facing the contested waters of the South China Sea. Hanoi's counter-proposal?

Lift a ban on selling it lethal weapons.


Best friends forever? Not so much.

As China has gotten stronger and more important to the U.S. economy, Washington has become extremely wary of engaging Taiwan as a full security partner - a big pullback from the 1950s and the 1960s, when the two had a formal defence treaty and the U.S. based thousands of troops on what it considered a - if not the - key forward base to keep China at bay.

Today, cooperation is limited to some intelligence sharing, the training of Taiwanese air force personnel in the U.S., occasional security consultations and very restricted arms sales - definitely not the kind of advanced F-16 fighters and diesel submarines the Taiwanese military really wants.

Even so, political scientist Alexander Huang of Taipei's Tamkang University says Taiwan can play a role in Obama's pivot - but only if Washington decides to make a clear commitment.


Ah, North Korea.

It's got a new leader, about whom, typically, the world knows almost nothing, a nuclear weapons/ballistic missile program that it likes to trot out every so often to raise regional tensions and a belligerent attitude toward the U.S.

But Obama has a friend in Seoul.

Back in the 1950s, the U.S. fought on Seoul's side in the Korean War - and contemplated nuking China before it was over. China still supports the North, and Washington continues to have about 28,500 troops in the South. South Korea also buys about 70 per cent of its weapons from the United States, and a big payday for an American company might come soon after Obama's inauguration, when South Korea is expected to formally announce the winner in a $7.6 billion project to build 60 sophisticated fighter jets.

The deal will be South Korea's biggest-ever weapons procurement. The top contender is believed to be Lockheed Martin's stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter - which after a long run of development problems and cost overruns could certainly use a multi-billion dollar boost. Boeing and European aerospace giant EADS are also in the running.


Australia got one of the first waves from the pivot when the U.S. announced last year it would begin rotating up to 2,500 U.S. Marines through the northern city of Darwin. Now the U.S. is seeking access to an Australian navy base south of the western city of Perth and to bombing ranges in the northern Outback.

Some experts fear the relationship may be moving too fast.

On one hand there is broad support for Australia's defence relationship with the U.S., so having American Marines was seen as a natural step. But it has also raised concerns that Washington will push for more - something Australia might not be ready for. After all China is central to Australia's economy, buying a bulk of its mineral and coal resources.

"What worries us is the way in which it seems to confirm that the United States and China are increasingly viewing each other as strategic rivals," said Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University.

"We worry about the idea of the U.S.-China relationship becoming more adversarial," he said. "America wants to remain the dominant power in Asia, and China wants to become the dominant power in Asia.

"What the rest of us all want is for neither of them to be the dominant power in Asia."